24 February 2018

It's the Weekend

No reviews over the weekend 
but did you miss...

Can one fall in love with fictional characters?
by Anna Belfrage
click here to go to page

* * *
and have you seen our

where you will find all sorts of interesting things
 to amuse, entertain and inform?

23 February 2018

Katharina: Deliverance by Margaret Skea

shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON UK £3.99 £7.41
AMAZON US $5.39 $17.36

Biographical fiction
early 16th Century

First, a confession. All I really knew of Martin Luther was an impression of a man in monk's garb (incorrect) nailing parchments to church doors in the dead of night (also incorrect) and schoolboy giggles when reading about a diet of Worms. Thus, when this book arrived in my inbox, my heart rather sunk a bit for it is not a period that I am particularly well-versed, or even interested, in.

However, any misgivings I may have had were dispelled completely by the time I had reached the second page. The quality and style – written in the first person and the present tense – didn't so much grab me as to physically haul me back through the centuries and wouldn't let me go until I had read every single word.

Katherina von Bora is taken from her home as a five year  old to a Cistercian nunnery in a faraway town on the wishes of her new stepmother. Speech is sometimes allowed, but she learns to communicate by signing and excels at the skills she is taught. Illicit tracts written by Martin Luther are smuggled in and Katherina and her friends slowly become influenced by them and they doubt their beliefs.  The chance to abscond presents itself and several of the nuns take advantage of the opportunity and are transported to Wittenberg. Katherina is, by this time, a young woman and has already taken her vows. She is taken in by a rich family and soon approached by a young man who presses his suit. But it is not to be.

Interspersed with the story are italicised segments where Katherina is older and obviously ill, for her ramblings in these often lead to the next part of main story. The author skilfully blends these pieces in and they are never intrusive.

There is so much to enjoy in this sparkling novel that brings the characters to life, including the rather dour Martin Luther, but most especially Katherina's progress from child to woman. The book ends with their marriage and I was delighted to see that a sequel is due to be released later this year and I am excited about that for there is a lot more of Katherina to be told.

Very highly recommended

© Richard Tearle

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22 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Leper King by Scott R. Rezer

AMAZON UK £1.99 £9.05
AMAZON US $2.70 $15.50

AMAZON CA $3.99 $19.35

fictional saga / fantasy
12th century/crusades
Holy Land

Book 1 of the Magdalene Cycle

Baldwin IV is an easy protagonist to admire. He is still a boy when he becomes King of Jerusalem during a turbulent time. Throughout his short life, and through sheer strength of will, he deals with challenges that would test older, healthy men. Baldwin is tormented by his leprosy, and the author graphically describes his worsening condition. Eventually, he comes to terms with his imminent death and even comes to understand why he has been afflicted. He is wise and brave beyond his years, dutiful and serious but occasionally mischievous. In spite of his youth and disease, he leads his armies against the enemy, Salah-ed-Din (Saladin) who is making gains in the Holy Land. In other books of the period I have read, Salah-ed-Din is portrayed as a rather shadowy enemy of the crusaders. In this book, he emerges as a full-bodied character with his own point of view. 

In fact, all the main characters are three-dimensional. As Baldwin’s disease progresses, the princes of Outremer jostle to gain an advantage in the next reign. Menace, intrigue, rebellion, magic and the supernatural in the form of Mary Magdalene as an immortal spiritual guide all play a part in this dark tale. I could have enjoyed it more without the magic, but it is an integral part of the story, and I’m sure many other people will enjoy that aspect. The balanced portrayal of the two sides in the struggle is refreshing. The author has added a touch of authenticity by using Arabic names for people and places. This is done from the pov of Salah-ed-Din.

There are a few grammar errors, but nothing too distracting.

© Susan Appleyard

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21 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of: The Falcon Strikes by Gabrielle Mathieu

AMAZON UK £3.84 £12.50
AMAZON US $5.27 $15.99 
AMAZON CA $20.12

second of a trilogy

Fantasy / Fictional Saga

This novel has been a unique read for me and left me rather wondering how to describe it. It is the second in a trilogy and I haven't read the first, leading, I suspect, to some of my indecision.

It is set in Ireland, both sides of the border, in the 1950s but the scenario played out there is a fantasy. As such it is maybe an odd choice again for Discovering Diamonds, but the pinpoint accuracy of the setting puts it firmly in the historical novel genre.

And then it diverts away from it into some odd Germanic film noir filled with odd characters and even odder props.

Peppa (short, yes, for Peppermint) Mueller travels to Ireland having left a traumatic experience in Switzerland, along with the man she loves, Tenzin Engle, another of the weird characters who is so not ordinary he is actually probably really annoying, being too good to be true. She is on the trail of a female called Silvia de Pena who orchestrated the traumatic events in Switzerland and Peppa needs to stop her doing it again. De Pena has a poison that makes people psychotic and Peppa was a test case for it. In Peppa it has awakened a totem, an inner creature that lurks in her subconscious and rears it falcon head when it feels threatened. She calls it Cora.

The novel could easily fall into clich├ęd nonsense – and in a few parts doesn't quite manage to avoid that. Silvia de Pena is a femme fatale straight out of a bad Philip Marlow-style detective story, seductive, intelligent, pure evil; the poison is named Compound Totentanz or simply Compound T, its partner in crime is Compound S, an unbelievably strong aphrodisiac made from the ludicrously named Strong Sprout. Doesn't sound very sexy, does it?

If the novel were just these elements then I might have laughed my way to giving up on it. But it isn't. Ireland of the 1950s is perfectly portrayed in such detail that you feel you are there. Ms Mathieu has made some sense of a complex political situation, neatly dividing Belfast into Green and Orange to help the reader, explains how and why splinter terrorist groups formed and manages to see both sides of the divide equally - equally corrupt and not to be trusted.

I suggest, read Book One first, as so much of this second novel relies on past events and it can be quite overwhelming, and coupled with the bizarre characters and names, it is tempting to not bother and give in, but you'd lose a compelling story and a building of tension that makes this a satisfying read. Different, certainly; off the beaten track, definitely; but ultimately pretty good!

© Nicky Galliers

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20 February 2018

Friends Of My Father by Shaun Ivory

Amazon UK £2.39 £6.99
Amazon US $3.24 $12.99
Amazon CA 

Family Drama
Ireland, near Dublin

To thirteen-year-old Brendan Lavelle, his father is a hero. Highly decorated in the First World War, John Lavelle is now the town's respected doctor. But then Brendan discovers pages of a diary his father had written during the Gallipoli campaign.

The evidence points to some sort of conspiracy involving other members of the small town community and the murder of one of their colleagues. Brendan sets himself the task of seeking the truth of this mystery – aided by the sassy Maura, a girl a little older than he with a reputation of being a bit strange -  even though it leads to Brendan doubting his father's integrity. He and Maura slowly piece together the clues which lead them to a dangerous and chilling conclusion and denouement.

What I really liked about this book was the sheer consistency of the author's writing in presenting the world through the eyes of a young child, perfectly mixed with Maura's more worldly outlook and experience.

My only quibble is with the extracts from John Lavelle's diary which are printed in a different font, one that more resembles handwriting, which I found a little difficult to read, especially as many common words are reduced to abbreviations to add to the idea that it (the diary) had been written quickly and in difficult circumstances. However, there is not too much of this.

The cover is simple but effective: a young child, wide-eyed and innocent and two shadowy figures as a background.

All in all, a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, well written , full of description and evocative.

© Richard Tearle

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19 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Hooks and Eyes by V.L. McBeath

AMAZON UK £2.99 £8.99
AMAZON US $4.10 $12.95

AMAZON CA $23.33

Family Drama

Set in 1846 England, Hooks and Eyes by V. L. McBeath, is the story of Mary Jackson, a young widow, and the journey she takes to ensure that she can aptly raise her two young children during the Victorian Age. After the death of her husband, Mary decides to leave her in-laws’ country home to live with her deceased husband’s Aunt Lucy and Aunt Rebecca in the city.  Determined to make her own choices about what is best for her family, Mary, against the advice of her aunts, marries William Wetherby, her former employer, bully, and womanizer.

Throughout the novel, McBeath intertwines the lives of multiple families while incorporating accurate historical elements into each chapter. She touches on how the non-mechanized businesses transitioned into the mechanized factories of the Industrial Revolution. Most importantly, McBeath opens readers’ eyes to the difficulties faced by widowed and older, unmarried women during the mid-1800s.

The author did a good job capturing the emotional struggles faced by the women throughout the novel. Readers will sympathize with Mary’s emotional and psychological pain. Seeing how women could choose to support one another, as Mary’s aunts tried to do, was enlightening. Unfortunately, some of Mary’s choices did not set well with her Aunt Lucy.

Instead of using Mary and Wetherby’s marriage to focus the many subplots more effectively into the central narrative of female strength, McBeath moves the story forward by introducing multiple characters to create short, family dramas that are frequently left unresolved or are irrelevant, and because of this, the one storyline that moves the main idea forward is unresolved. Had it been, it could have given Mary profound insight into her original choice, creating a smoother transition into the final scene.

Hooks and Eyes starts with a narrative that captures the emotions of the main character and the journey she takes because of the death of her true love. The subplots are interesting and build a sense of the period, but  they fall a little short of connecting that main storyline introduced in the beginning of the novel, with the climax in the final paragraphs.

However, an interesting novel for those readers interested in this period.

© Cathy Smith

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17 February 2018

It's the Weekend

No reviews over the weekend 
but did you miss...

Can one fall in love with fictional characters?
by Anna Belfrage
click here to go to page

* * *
and have you seen our

where you will find all sorts of interesting things
 to amuse, entertain and inform?

16 February 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Lost Letter by Mimi Matthews

AMAZON UK £2.99 £7.06
AMAZON US $3.14 $8.99 
AMAZON CA $11.30

Romance / family drama
Victorian era

Sebastian Conrad, recently elevated to Earl of Radcliff, is an angry, bitter man. Not only has he been horribly injured in the wars in India, but he has yet to get over the cold-hearted beauty who broke his heart.

Sylvia Stafford could have been angry and bitter. After her father’s suicide, she was left destitute, was totally shunned by polite society, and is now reduced to working as a governess. Plus, of course, there’s the matter of the handsome young officer she so loved but who didn’t return even one of her many letters.

Where Sebastian has buried himself in the countryside, Sylvia is making the best of life, having therefore achieved an element of contentment, if not happiness in her new life. And then, one day, a certain Viscountess Harker comes looking for her, convinced that Sylvia is the only person who can somehow break through her brother Sebastian’s self-imposed isolation and anger.

What follows is a classic romance. Sebastian battles a turmoil of conflicting feelings at the sight of Sylvia: bitterness, love, hope, anger. He lashes out, she is hurt, he is desperate at hurting her, apologises, lashes out again. Truth be told, Lady Harker’s plan is not exactly working out as she has planned. What ultimately happens I leave to readers to find out for themselves.

Sylvia and Sebastian are both engaging characters. The Victorian setting is well presented as is the vulnerability of the society girl turned persona non grata when her baronet father dies with huge unsettled debts. The prose is well-written, the dialogue adequately full of innuendos and misunderstandings. Now and then, POV slips, with Sylvia’s eyes filling with understanding while the narrative is being told in her POV. All in all, The Lost Letter is an entertaining read, adequate for all those who like to escape the here and now for an hour or so, preferably before a crackling fire and with a cup of tea at their side.

© Anna Belfrage

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15 February 2018

The February Mid-Month Extra with Anna Belfrage

Can one fall in love with fictional characters?
by Anna Belfrage

I imagine many of you will snort at the idiocy of the above question. After all, many are the readers that have fallen in love with the invented peeps that populate a novel. As a writer, that’s an emotion you’re eager to promote. A reader who has irrevocably lost their heart to a character is willing to forgive a lot just to spend a few more hours with their love. Come to think of it, this is valid in real life as well: never do we make as many (in some cases irrational) excuses for the behaviour of another person as when we are in love with them.

Like many of you out there, I have crushed on Mr Rochester (why, one wonders: here’s a brooding man with a vicious streak who doesn’t even have the decency to inform poor Jane he’s got wife #1 stashed in the attic). I have definitely spent too much time imagining a future with Aragorn (a major challenge: he lives in an entirely different universe and has lost his heart to the ethereal Arwen) and really, really think I could make life easier (and more fun) for a certain Mr Acorne, pirate extraordinaire. And then, of course, there’s Jamie Fraser of Outlander.

For the record, I have never crushed on Mr Darcy. Never. Well, except when Colin Firth played him, but I suspect that was me crushing on Colin rather than on Darcy. Darcy, IMO, is too cool, too contained. There’s no edge to him, no danger—which is probably why I much prefer Kresley Cole’s males who run the gamut from vampires and werewolves through demons and dark elves to Russian tycoons. I’m stuck on Rune the Baneblood, who is half demon, half dark elf and has the teensy weensy handicap of having bodily fluids that are poison to everyone else. One drop of Rune’s blood or his saliva and you’re gone, which of course has a hampering impact on Rune’s love life. Or not.

Right: moving on here…

By now, we’ve established that yes, one can fall in love with invented peeps. (And I’m perfectly OK with your crushes being totally different from mine. I rather like keeping Rune to myself. And Gideon Cross…) As a reader, establishing these emotional connections enhance the reading experience. As a writer, they enhance the writing experience. At first. At some point, the way my heart goes pitter-patter at the thought of one of my invented characters becomes a problem. Why? Because I can’t let them go. Not quite. And I don’t want them to die, ever. And because I feel I am betraying them when I start concentrating on the New Kid in Town, a.k.a. the leading characters in my latest WIP.
Today is the publication day for the fourth book in The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series spanning 1321 to 1330 and based on the rise and fall of Roger Mortimer. Now, I prefer having a fictional character as my lead, so while Roger—yes, I know, a tad too familiar, but Roger and I are really, really close, okay?—is the sun around which all the planets dance, it is Adam de Guirande who really has the lead role in my series, together with his wife, Kit.

Adam is quite the man: not only is he tall, handsome and brave, he’s also a man of integrity and honour. Add to that the fact that he loves the young Edward III but also loves Roger Mortimer, and it is apparent I am setting him up for a lot of pain in my just released The Cold Light of Dawn. Thing is, his pain is my pain, and then there’s the fact that I intended this book to be the last book about Adam, which has resulted in a lot of sleepless nights while I’ve clutched my pillow to my chest and tried to convince myself I am a silly fool for being so affected by leaving him behind.

Turns out, I simply can’t tell him goodbye. This makes Adam smile. And Kit, who is more than delighted by the thought that I’ll give her man the opportunity to heal his broken heart.  Even Edward III is onboard, saying it’s not fair on either him or Adam to leave them like that. However: I have other people moving in to live inside my head, new characters that need TLC and attention as I carefully blow life into them, watching like a hawk over their first baby steps into the Belfrage universe.

“We can wait for a while,” Adam says, pounding his pillow into shape before reclining on his bed, Kit lying beside him. “As long as you don’t forget us.” He gives Robert FitzHugh a dark look. “He seems the monopolising type. He’ll throw a tantrum if you decide to spend time with us or Matthew and Alex.”
“Mmm,” I reply, eyeing my latest male lead. I rather like the thought of him throwing a tantrum, but in difference to Adam, I know he won’t. He’s too proud, too aware of just how thin the veneer his recent knighthood confers on him is.

The thing about falling in love with your characters is that they become an addiction. I need my regular Matthew and Alex fix (Duh! They’re my firstborn and therefore have a special hold on my heart) my Adam and Kit fix, my Jason and Helle fix. (Very few have as yet met Jason and Helle, but I am sure that when they do, they’ll understand why I need recurring fixes.) At the same time, I must move onwards and upwards. I think. Or maybe not. Or maybe yes. But how am I to abandon my previous creations? I have to keep tabs on them, ensure they’re okay. A conundrum, isn’t it?

So agonising do I find this separation from my invented peeps that I always have a little WIP going in which they feature. Some of those WIPs are For My Eyes Only. Some will probably see publication. In Adam de Guirande’s specific case he may very well gallop on for some books more, following his young bellicose king to Scotland and then to France. Along the way there will be adventures and death and pain and loss and love and joy and…

“Not exactly news,” Adam mutters. “You’ve put me through all of that several times by now.”
“She does that to all of us,” Alex pipes up from where she is making tea. Beside her is a plate loaded with cardamom buns – my recipe which Alex has filched from somewhere inside my brain. She claps her hands together, and out of every little nook and cranny in my head they come: Matthew Graham in his unlaced shirts and breeches, smiling at his wife as he claims the seat beside her: Adam and Kit, trailed by Adam’s brother William and look, there’s Roger Mortimer himself! 

“Just because I can’t gallop on after the 29th of November 1330 that doesn’t mean I don’t want a bun and a cuppa,” he tells me, gesturing for Queen Isabella to join him. Edward III sits down beside Adam, his grandsire Edward I prefers to remain standing, sniffing suspiciously at his tea. 

Jason and Helle come hand in hand, Robert FitzHugh guides his young wife Noor to the table, and soon enough they’re all munching their way through that mountain of cardamom buns while comparing notes about me. About me? Hey, stop that! I’m the author here, okay?

“They’re like an extended family,” I say to my BFF.
“Uh-hu,” she replies, rolling her eyes. “An invented family.”
“Nothing wrong with an invented family,” I tell her. Besides, she’s as addicted as I am to some of my characters. And let’s not get us started on her relationship with Jamie Fraser. This is a woman who has visited every stone circle in Scotland (I kid you not) at auspicious times to attempt to travel through the stones.
“As long as you remember which family is real and which isn’t,” she says, pouring us both a cup of tea. I smile into my mug. IMO, the whispering creations of my brain are just as real as my blood-and-flesh people. But there’s no need to say that out loud, I think.

About the author
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The fourth book in the series, The Cold Light of Dawn, has just been published.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This series is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. A ninth instalment has recently been published, despite Anna having thought eight books were enough. Turns out her 17th century dreamboat and his time travelling wife didn’t agree…
Anna can be found on her website, on Facebook and on her blog. Or on twitter and Amazon.
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/abelfrageauthor  @abelfrageauthor
Link The Graham Saga: http://amzn.to/2sVzZsZ
Link The King’s Greatest Enemy: http://myBook.to/TKGE
Link The Cold Light of Dawn http://myBook.to/TCLOD

Anna and Helen at a Denver  Conference 2015

                                                   .... next month's post >

14 February 2018

The Cold Light of Dawn by Anna Belfrage

A fabulous series with two very romantic lead characters for Valentine's Day - meet Kit and Adam...

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON US $6.88 

Fictional Saga 
England / France

Book 4 The King’s Greatest Enemy Series

Fascinating Research Powering a Glorious Love Story

"After Henry of Lancaster’s rebellion has been crushed early in 1329, a restless peace settles over England. However, the young Edward III is no longer content with being his regents’ puppet, no matter that neither Queen Isabella nor Roger Mortimer show any inclination to give up their power. Caught in between is Adam de Guirande, torn between his loyalty to the young king and that to his former lord, Roger Mortimer. 
Edward III is growing up fast. No longer a boy to be manipulated, he resents the power of his mother, Queen Isabella, and Mortimer. His regents show little inclination of handing over their power to him, the rightful king, and Edward suspects they never will unless he forces their hand.
Adam de Guirande is first and foremost Edward’s man, and he too is of the opinion that the young king is capable of ruling on his own. But for Adam siding with his king causes heartache, as he still loves Roger Mortimer, the man who shaped him into who he is. 

Inevitably, Edward and his regents march towards a final confrontation. And there is nothing Adam can do but pray and hope that somehow things will work out. Unfortunately, prayers don’t always help." 

The fourth eagerly awaited novel in The King’s Greatest Enemy series, The Cold Light of Dawn has been billed as the final book in Ms Belfrage’s award-winning medieval historical fiction saga. Let me put it on record. Nope. No. Never. Don’t believe it. This series is too good, too addictive, too compelling not to continue. We’re just getting warmed up! And, Ms Belfrage herself has left a tantalizing epilogue where she hints she may return. All I have to say is, when?

Here’s the joy of reading this series: the research and detail is impeccable. It’s deep, comprehensive, and completely reliable. Which means as a reader, one can relax and enjoy the outstanding narrative, knowing that the author has done her homework and built her historical fiction on a solid foundation of fact and truth. That being said, plunging into the fascinating world of medieval England and France with characters as likeable as Adam and Kit de Guirande is to see, feel, hear and speak the time, for Ms Belfrage’s writing is utterly immersive. And here’s the interesting part – along with her historical accuracy, Ms Belfrage’s dialogue and emotions are totally accessible to the 21st century reader, without seeming anachronistic.

In The Cold Light of Dawn, we know there is a final showdown coming. And despite neatly dispatching some enemies early on in the book, the tension ratchets to almost unbearable levels as Kit and Adam are witnesses to the return of Edward III and the young king’s journey to manhood. Some beautifully written characterizations (the viscerally compelling scenes around the fate of Alicia and Robert for instance) show the depth of the young man as he grows into his role. And we know that this is just a dress rehearsal for worse to come.

Alleviating the political tensions and stresses at court (the queen's pre-occupations with providing heirs is another tense subplot) is the glorious love story between Kit and Adam. At times exasperated with each other, at other times wonderfully lustful, theirs is a genuinely human relationship, and one that we can all wish for, no matter what era.

So to summarize, a splendid novel and one that is sure to delight all fans of Kit and Adam. I’d venture to say that perhaps it’s the best yet of the series.

Until Ms Belfrage writes the fifth book, that is.

© Elizabeth St John
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